The loss of Junior Bryant is felt

Nov 11, 2000 at 12:00 AM


Week Three in The World Dome against division superstars St. Louis Rams we suffered a catastrophic loss in the season ending injury to Defensive Tackle/Defensive End Junior Bryant.

Junior suffered the injury while making a flying tackle at Rams Running Back Marshall Faulk, when he came down on his head so did all 278 pounds of himself on his neck, as he laid there motionless I can still visualize the trauma that I observed before me.

I had recalls of the devastating injury Defensive Tackle Bryant Young suffered to his leg that snapped against the New York Giants. My only thought was realizing that Junior was about to resemble that same injury just in a different area and manner.

“Basically I was coming out of the stack and chased Marshall from behind,” Bryant said of the harrowing moment when the injury occurred. “I lunged at him flew over the top of the pile and landed on my head. I got a burning sensation throughout my body for a few moments. And then I just felt a pain in my neck.”

As Junior lay there the entire field was in blank stares of disbelief and worry; Mariucci was beside himself as he made his way out onto the field. His sidekick partner at Tackle Bryant Young suddenly recalled why a titanium rod was still a part of his leg as he observed the medical team hovering over Junior. v Bryant never lost feeling in his limbs, but was strapped to a stretcher and wheeled off the field as a precaution. X-rays taken in St. Louis revealed no cracked or broken vertebrae, but a MRI revealed a bulging disk.

This loss of Junior Bryant has weakened the front seven on the 49er defensive line, and hampered their pass rush to such an extent that Bryant Young is sack-less and being constantly double-teamed to shut down any big play possibility.

Brentson Buckner has filled the void where Junior was, but does not fill the shoes of the motor and passion Junior brought to the game, his partnership with Bryant Young was invaluable in the 49er run defense. They together posed a formidable force to pressuring the passer also, now it seems to be our weakest link in a line desperately trying to find someone to step forward and produce.

“In three to six months the bulging disk is supposed to recess over time,” Bryant said. “It’s not a concern over the long term. It’s just a matter of taking it easy for awhile.” Bryant has been restricted to light weightlifting and no running at this point. “It could be a lot worse,” he said. “I could be in a hospital bed, paralyzed. I actually feel fortunate and blessed its not worse.”

We are all blessed to have his injury a correctable injury and that he will return to the field next year, so much worse could have happened Junior is active still not only in the 49er locker room but still in the community itself.

When Junior was 15 years old he tried to light a water heater he sustained severe burns to his arms, legs and face. He still has scars on his arms, legs and hands from the accident. Bryant has used his status to draw attention to burn victims through his foundation, 90 Ways, and often visits the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation in San Francisco.

Certainly Bryant is one familiar with severe injuries, it is in a way what has made him such a compassionate and charitable person, reflecting on the adversity he has had to adjust to and being thankful for the rich bounty he has been blessed with now. Bryant continues to be a champion for burn victims and the less fortunate everywhere, his appearances and endorsements are testaments to his character and statute.

One fact remains about Bryant’s season-ending injury is the fact it occurred on Astroturf in the St. Louis Trans World Dome, underneath the carpet is solid concrete. The documentation and experience tells us that professional football players are more likely to be injured seriously on this turf rather then real grass is overwhelming. I am beside myself to think that even more players will continue to suffer season-ending possibly career-ending injuries on this hated Astroturf.

The National Football League has dragged their feet, and turned a blind eye to this fact for far too long now, Owners must step up and demand a change even if it should come from their pockets financially, a percentage should come from the league itself and financial help from the cities the stadiums are set in.

“I don’t know if (grass) would have made a difference,” Bryant said. “It certainly has a lot more give. They’ve done all these surveys and determined there are more injuries on Astroturf. If owners look at it in protecting their investment maybe they’ll do something about it.” Several players have incurred season-ending turf injuries this season, including high-priced Dallas receiver Joey Galloway. Bryant prefers the soft artificial turf the Seahawks are playing on this season in Husky Stadium.

“It’s a lot like grass but you can wear turf shoes,” said Bryant, who played on it when the 49er’s visited Seattle this summer for a preseason game. “It’s a solution. I’m sure the turf costs less than Galloway’s signing bonus.”

With the loss of Junior Bryant others have had to step up and fill the void, however none of them have made a splash as a real alternative to Junior. 1999 Defensive Tackle Reggie McGrew has been literally a flop with this franchise, Brentson Buckner has been the one that has taken the most snaps and is coming into his own.

The 49er’s are struggling to get a pass rush going in all their games, this has been a deciding factor in many games because the opposing quarterback literally has all day to pass the ball. Defensive Ends Chike Okeafor, John Milem, John Engelberger, Cedric Killings and Anthony Pleasant have not generated any kind of real pressure, resulting in the secondary being shredded with accurate passes.

“Some of us younger players have to step up and be like J.B., be a solid player and contribute and make plays when you can,” rookie linebacker Julian Peterson said. “That’s how it is. We all have to fight for each other.”

Junior Bryant even though he is gone for the season continues to be a part of the team’s daily functions. He continues to mentor the young players, offers teammates tips during practice and lends them support from the sidelines on game days. The team has taken to him so much he was re-elected to a two-year term as the team’s union representative.

“I’m not going to crawl into a hole and be depressed,” Bryant said. “I’ve still got responsibilities to the team. Obviously, they don’t involve playing, but I’m still a member of the team and I’m still going to be around. My role is little bit different now. It’s behind the scenes. The other guys are the show. I’m just here to support them and be there for them.”

Junior has won over the trust and confidence of his teammates and serves as a role model for so many rookies and young players on this rebuilding franchise. No one can come close to disputing his allegiance and loyalty to his team, he is a person full of conviction and mercy, so much about Junior is how I feel about the game today. Junior always brought a little extra with him, his desire to achieve and play hard were always evident on the field.

“We’re going to miss him not being with us, but he’s been around,” Bryant Young said. “He’s been with us at practice, saying things to help us out and help the young guys out,

And the young guys understand they have to step up.”

Certainly with Junior gone the pass rush is left in question, the 49er’s have generated very few sacks, even Bryant Young is sack-less due to the double-teaming he is experiencing. Junior is not someone you can just go out and replace with the same identity, passion for the game, versatility, explosiveness and quickness. He will be missed as the season wears on and new players are evaluated and rated.

With the 49er’s already having a very young defense this makes it even younger as rookies are forced to grow up in a hurry in this NFL climate. Already we have defensive stars starting to bud and spring open with positive results; others have shown very little and need to be dealt with accordingly.

We are in salary cap hell as Assistant General Manager Terry Donahue put it, just a few weeks ago, we are paying the bill for trying to field high priced players to lead us into the playoffs and possibly another Super Bowl.

Now the rebuilding process is fully underway in its first phase, Next Year will bring with it cuts and the drafting of new rookies to mold into this defensive line. Junior was going to be used often as a defensive end and use his quickness to rush the passer providing the weak secondary a chance to play man to man coverage on occasion.

“This isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me,” Bryant said. “Obviously, it’s not the best. But I deal with it from the standpoint that I’ve been through worse and overcame it and I’ll overcome this. Compared to being burned, this is really nothing.”

It is to the best of our knowledge that Bryant’s bulge in his disk will recede in three to six months. He’ll have to be re-evaluated before he can play next season.

Since coming to the 49er’s Junior has recorded 13 sacks averaging 4.5 per season since he became a starter with the club. He came aboard as an un-drafted free agent in 1995. He eventually replaced Defensive Tackle Dana Stubblefield whom departed to the Washington Redskins in 1997.

Junior Bryant’s accomplishments off the field continue to grow from day to day he was recently named the USA Weekend magazines Eighth Annual Most Caring Athlete Award. The quality time he spends with charities, and as a role model for kids is all the more reason we need to be thankful for Junior’s contribution to this franchise.

I believe Junior Bryant was worth the money we signed him for over the long term, he provides stability and a fearless competitor in this game today, Next year expect great things to come from him, he will be worth the wait.

Defensive Tackle Junior Bryant was placed on The Injured Reserve List (10-11-00) along with Rookie Safety John Keith who was injured in Week Six’s game against the Oakland Raiders.

Keith suffered a broken right forearm, fracturing both the ulna and radius bones, in overtime. He had surgery on (10-10-00) and his estimated recovery time is from 10-12 weeks. Another major blow to a thin defensive lineup.

In regards to the Week 10 match-up at New Orleans we played the worse game of our lives without question, if any was there a time where are youth and injuries came to the top in a boiling minute it was at this game.

It is without a doubt a clear picture of where this organization is in rebuilding itself from every fiber imaginable, certainly we can take from this that we played the best defense in the league however we played ourselves out of this game in more ways than one.

We were flagged for 14 times with a loss of 97 yards, it is stupid and ridiculous penalties like these that virtually crush any hope of making a comeback in any game we are in.

On top of that New Orleans never hardly gave the ball back to us, gutting the clock for all its worth and keeping our anemic offense off the field, we were only on the field for a total of 23 minutes.

San Francisco kicker Wade Richey concerns me when he once again misses field goal attempts, this one from 34 yards, It is more crucial than ever to expect better play from special teams to turn momentum and keep games closer in scoring.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia was clearly not himself in this game as he threw two costly interceptions and had two intentional groundings calls with loss of downs, pressure was applied constantly breaking his rhythm and chasing him out of the pocket and hurrying his passes.

The most positives came with Defensive Tackle Bryant Young and Linebacker Julian Peterson registering two sacks each and breaking threw the Saint offensive line with regularity.

The Saints exploited our weak defense by keeping them on the field for an extended period of time and their Quarterback Jeff Blake using a variety of weapons to extend the playing field so wide it was impossible for our defense to cover all areas of concern.

Blake completed 20 of 26 passes for 275 yards and no interceptions and three touchdowns, Wide Receiver Joe Horn finished the day with 167 yards on nine catches, and Running Back Ricky Williams gained 81 yards on 27 carries.

By comparison 49er Quarterback Jeff Garcia was 22 of 36 passes for 262 yards with two interceptions, and one touchdown, Wide Receiver Terrell Owens finished with six catches for 97 yards, and Running Back Charlie Garner 13 carries for 49 yards.

We had to once again abandon our running game as penalties and frequent scoring by New Orleans negated this area of production in very short fashion.

“I think this one is probably the toughest,” 49er’s tight end Greg Clark said. “We flat out didn’t play well.”

“I hope this is rock bottom, and we rebound from here,” 49er’s Coach Steve Mariucci said. “We can’t play like this again. We just can’t.”

“We just stunk it up,” 49er’s receiver Terrell Owens said. “We can’t beat anybody with the mistakes we made today.”

New Orleans had four first-half drives and scored on each-going 63, 76, 80 and 74 yards to touchdowns. The Saints had a fourth-down conversion in three of the four drives showing total disrespect for a struggling 49er defense that was hopeless to stop them.

The humility reached a whole new level when the Saints -6-3 and winners of five straight-went for it on fourth-and-one from their own 29-yard line 9:47 before halftime and made the first down and more setting up the next touchdown.

This is where we are at my friends, real life for The San Francisco 49er’s became real as everything has caught up with us in a hurry, mental and physical mistakes mixed with countless rookies and key injuries have turned this franchise upside down this season.

However that does not mean we take it lying down, we get up and fight another day.

We continue to push and developed the rookies and second-year players we have now to their fullest potential and provide them the playing time to do just that, so that we have a better understanding of where it is we continue rebuilding with phase two.

The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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